How to assemble a Franken-line, without the monster headaches

By Lisa McTigue Pierce in Automation on June 26, 2018

Most manufacturing operations have a graveyard of unused equipment. Those machines come in handy, though, when a plant has to cobble together a packaging line either in a hurry or on a budget, or both. Here are five tips to remember when faced with a challenging packaging line assembly project, from veteran engineer John R. Henry.

Known as the Changeover Wizard, Henry is the owner of, a consulting firm that helps companies find and fix the causes of inefficiencies in their packaging operations. He has, literally, written the book on packaging machinery and is the face and personality behind packaging detective KC Boxbottom, the main character in popular articles on

On June 12, Henry spoke about assembling packaging lines with available machines at the new Packaging Education Hub at EastPack 2018. First, he reminded us that nimbleness in production is all-important for strategic success, which gives us two great reasons to consider using idle packaging equipment:

You do not have time to wait for new machinery.

You do not have the money to risk for capital expenditures. After all, 75% of new products fail.

“Franken-lines are not only something you’re going to have to do, but you need to embrace them because it gives you the opportunity for strategic success,” Henry says.

To help track your existing packaging machines, he recommends you develop a database of all equipment in the company that identifies:

• The type of equipment (such as filler, case packer or palletizer);

• The make, model, serial number and year built;

• The condition—you’ll need to know how much work, if any, will be needed before the machine can operate efficiently and if that work can be done in-house, by the manufacturer (if it is still in business) or by a refurbishing/engineering firm;

• The capacity, such as what products it can handle (liquid, powder and such), the expected operating speed, and what packages and sizes it can accommodate;

• The location—you’ll need to know where the machine is stored, especially if you have an extensive warehouse or more than one plant;

• Its availability—note if the system is currently in use, reserved or available/idle.

With this information collected, you’re in much better shape to start your packaging line assembly process.

Here are Henry’s five tips on how to put together a packaging line from your company’s unused but available equipment:


1. Determine requirements

“The best surprise on a packaging line is no surprise,” Henry says. “The way you avoid surprises is by asking questions. But if you don’t ask the right questions, you won’t get the right answers.”

Henry suggests asking questions and getting answers about what is needed from three angles: product, facility and regulatory.

• On the product side, you’ll need to know how many products you need to make—your capacity requirements—and then work towards from there to determine how fast the packaging line needs to operate to produce that capacity.

Remember to ask when you’ll need the capacity, too. “If you’re making ice cream, you probably need a lot of capacity from May through September,” Henry says. “Not so much October through April.”

Put together a complete Bill of Materials (BOM) for the product and a complete BOM for all package components. And get actual samples as early as possible. You need actual samples because there are no “standard” products that are “just like…” something else.

Or if you can’t get samples, get prototypes. 3D printing technology for additive manufacturing can help and is always advancing. “You can buy a 3D printer from Amazon for $200,” Henry says. “There’s no excuse for not having an additive printer in every department in the plant. They are very easy to use; they are no harder to use than any other printer.”

• From a facility point of view, once you know where the line will be placed in your plant, get all the pertinent measurements, including the length, width and the floor-to-ceiling dimension—which Henry emphasizes is not the same as the ceiling height. “We got fooled one time because we knew the ceiling height, but the floor turned out to be elevated a foot and we had a real problem with the height of a machine,” Henry remembers.

Make a note of any interferences—such as doors and columns—as well as floor loading necessities, that could limit access to the packaging line or impair its operation.

Check the utilities. Do you have the right setups for electric, pneumatic air, cooling water or washdown water? Are there any special construction considerations because of the industry, such as foods, chemicals or pharmaceuticals?

• Regarding regulatory requirements, you’ll need to find out what the requirements are for internal and external customers. Some will be governmental, from governing agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and whoever manages building codes in the specific country.

Some will be non-governmental standards. For example: “The sprinkler system…is not regulated by any government agency. It’s regulated by the National Fire Protection Assn. (NFPA), which is a private, non-profit conglomerate of insurance companies,” Henry says.

Other needs will be from industry standards bodies, such as 3-A Sanitary Standards for dairy, Intl. Organization for Standardization (ISO) and ASTM Intl.

Your company may have policies and practices you need to adhere to, such as Zero Access for machine safety. Plus, your customers might require you adhere to their policies and practices.

Lastly, find out if there are any other industry practices that might apply.


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